Shiretoko National Park in Hokkaido: How to get there and what to do

shiretoko national park hokkaido

Shiretoko National Park is on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, covering most of the Shiretoko peninsula.

It is a remote area of Japan, parts of the peninsula can only be reached by boat or on foot. This isolated location makes Shiretoko one of the most unspoiled national parks in Japan.

If you make the effort to reach Shiretoko National Park, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and a chance to see a variety of wildlife, including Japan’s largest brown bear population.

How to get to Shiretoko National Park

You can get to the nearest towns to Shiretoko National Park by train, using your Japan Rail Pass.

Due to its remote setting, the best way to reach the park itself is by rental car. Bus services to the park are often seasonal or infrequent.

Getting to Shiretoko by train and bus

The closest railway station to Shiretoko National Park is JR Shiretoko Shari Station in Shari Town, around 40 km from the park.

You can use your Japan Rail Pass on train services from Abashiri or Kushiro to Shiretoko-Shiri using the Senmō main line.

From Shiretoko Shari Station, you should take a bus to Utoro, the base for Shiretoko sightseeing. Some buses go as far as the Shiretoko Nature Center from April to October.

Direct bus to Shiretoko from Sapporo

During the summer months, you can take a direct highway bus from Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, to Utoro, it takes around 8 hours.

You can get to Sapporo from Tokyo with your Japan Rail Pass. Take the Hokkaido Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate Station then Hokuto limited express or Super Hokuto trains to Sapporo station.

Driving to Shiretoko National Park

This is the most convenient way to reach Shiretoko National Park. If you’re traveling from Tokyo, you can get to Sapporo riding the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen using your JR Rail Pass and rent a car in Sapporo. The national park is around 450 km from Sapporo, a 6-7 hours drive.

Alternatively, there are car hire companies at Memanbetsu Airport and Abashiri Airport.

Shiretoko National Park Center

Shiretoko National Park Center is located at the entrance to the park. It provides tourist information and has several facilities for visitors.

You can watch a 20-minute overview on a large screen of the park’s highlights and areas that cannot be accessed on a tour.

There is also a shop at Shiretoko National Park Center selling souvenirs and basic hiking equipment. The only restaurant available in Shiretoko National Park is in the information center.

What to do in Shiretoko National Park

Shiretoko National Park is known for its impressive nature and biodiversity. From majestic lakes and mountains to rugged cliffs and rocky beaches, there is a lot to explore.

Shiretoko was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2005 due to the importance of its ecosystem and biodiversity.

Visit the Shiretoko Five Lakes

This is a collection of 5 small lakes that were formed by the eruption of Mount Io with water from underground springs. The lakes are a great base from which to enjoy the scenery of Shiretoko.

There is a wooden boardwalk from the parking lot to the first lake. From the elevated path, you get views of the lake, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the mountains.

shiretoko five lakes

There are several nature trails to follow around the lakes, access is restricted to limit numbers and protect the delicate ecosystem.

Shiretoko National Park boat cruises

Sightseeing boat cruises depart from Utoro from April to November. The cruises travel along the western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula, making it possible to see the rugged cliffs and waterfalls that are otherwise inaccessible to tourists.

A wide variety of wildlife can also be viewed from the boat tours. Brown bears and their cubs are often seen on the rocky shore.

Other animals you might be lucky enough to spot include dolphins, whales, and various types of seabirds.

Waterfalls in Shiretoko National Park

There are several waterfalls around Shiretoko National Park. Just a 20-minute walk from Shiretoko National Park Nature Center, Furepe Waterfall is one of the best for visitors.

There is an observation deck with magnificent views of the cliffs and sea. It is also impressive in winter when the water freezes.

shiretoko waterfalls

The Oshinkoshin Waterfall is another popular stop for tourists. It is 30 meters high and 50 meters tall, splitting into 2 streams part way down. There are steps alongside the waterfall which you can climb for the best views.

Other waterfalls worth exploring at Shiretoko National Park include Kamuiwakka Hot Falls and Shiretoko Pass.

Winter in Shiretoko

In winter, you can experience the drift ice at Shiretoko National Park. The ice drifts across the Sea of Okhotsk from northeastern Russia. It can be seen from the end of January until early April.

The coastal road on the Shiretoko peninsula’s west coast is a good viewing point. Organized ice walk tours are also available, taking participants on a guided walk across the ice.

shiretoko winter

If you’re thinking of visiting Shiretoko in winter, be sure to check out transport options, as some only run between spring and fall.

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